(This is a repost of an article I wrote for Verso Voice)
I cringed as I saw Mabel walking by my house. At church she told me she lived in my neighborhood, and now she’d found my house. As she walked up to my door, I put on my best pastor face.
“Hi Mabel, so good to see you!” I lied.
“Hi neighbor, I mean Pastor! God bless you!” she said, the words interrupted by nervous laughter. As she spoke, she bobbed back and forth, like a Hasidic Jew praying at the Wailing Wall.
I allowed her to chatter and bob away, nodding and smiling at appropriate intervals. After giving her enough of my Saturday, I politely drew the one-way conversation to an end.
“Can you pray for my corns first?” asked Mabel. “They’re hurting from the walk.”
She plopped herself down in a chair, took off her shoe, pull off her sock, and propped her foot up on another chair. She believed prayer required direct contact. I gingerly put my hand on the top of the offending foot, but she said, “They’re under here,” and wrapped my fingers around her toes.
A couple of minutes later, as Mabel was walking down my driveway and I was washing my hands a second time, my wife asked me, “What was that about?!?”
“That’s nothing,” I said. “She once had Pastor Bruce pray for her hemorrhoids.”
The Real Problem
Looking back, the part of that story that makes me cringe is not the memory of Mabel’s sweaty foot, but the stench of my own attitude. Back in Bible college, we used to joke, “Ministry would be great . . . if it weren’t for the people.” I saw Mabel as one of those people—I ministered to her because I had to. Given a choice, I would’ve spent my time with the movers and shakers who matched my idea of spiritual greatness.
Because I’m writing this to Logos and Vyrso users, I suspect that many of you are pastors, students, and lay leaders and that you’ve heard that joke before. Even if you aren’t in formal ministry, God probably brings hurting people across your path on a regular basis, people that are a drain on your time and patience. In either case, think about what “if it weren’t for the people” communicates—“They are lucky to have me ministering to them.” Somehow that doesn’t feel very Christ-like, does it?
In truth, you and I are lucky to minister to them. Here’s how I now see it. I’m crazy about my two young daughters. They are the apple of my eye and I’m very protective of them. Were I ever to ever allow you to care for them, it would be very high praise indeed.
I finally realized that Mabel is one of God’s precious daughters. He had given me the high privilege of carrying for her and I treated it as a burden. I say that to my shame. My attitude reeked worse than any sweaty foot. I’m learning that until I see it as a privilege to lay hands on Mabel’s feet, I am not worthy to do so.
This hasn’t been an overnight change for me. I’m learning to come off my high horse and be less impressed with myself and my Biblical knowledge. I’m learning that God cares a lot more about his broken children than I did. He has also allowed me to be deeply hurt by the sort of people that used to impress me.
Becoming less impressed with myself (especially when I had to get a second job at Starbucks) is a key part of my story, which you can find in my book, Radically Normal. It’s free on Vyrso until November 27, so you may want to download it and read chapter 2, “It’s Okay to Be Normal.” In the meantime, I pray that God blesses you with many stinky feet to pray for and the perspective to know that it’s a privilege.